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Neither interest, nor issues seen for polls

Pakistan’s January 8 elections are being seen as “issue-less elections,” with most parties refusing to come out with any forceful agenda or manifesto that could inspire the electorate. Kamal Siddiqi reports.

world Updated: Dec 24, 2007 02:49 IST
Kamal Siddiqi

Pakistan’s January 8 elections are being seen as “issue-less elections,” with most parties refusing to come out with any forceful agenda or manifesto that could inspire the electorate.

The lack of interest in the polls can also be gauged from the low turnout at most political rallies across the country despite the fact that both former prime ministers Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif have already hit the campaign trail.

“In 1985 we had party-less elections, now we are having issue-less elections as again many parties have decided to go ahead and participate in the electoral process with little to show in terms of what plans they have for the future,” comments Muhammad Hamid, an Islamabad-based academic. While all major political parties have announced their manifestos, none have come up with anything new or different from their past promises.

The lack of interest can also be seen in the turnout at political rallies as major politicians try and jump-start their election campaigns. Last week, in Hyderabad, Ms Bhutto faced a lower than expected crowd and organizers put this down to the cold weather. Others say that people are “fed up” with the same old promises and slogans. There’s also a sense that nothing much will change and President Pervez Musharraf will have the final say. “It does not make any difference if we vote or we dont,” said Ashiq Ali, a trader in Karachi.

The final list of 7,335 candidates released by the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) for the polls to the national and provincial assemblies reveal that the number of candidates is much below the anticipated figure of 8,000-9,000. The ECP attributed it largely to the boycott of elections by the All-Parties Democratic Movement (APDM), noting that a large number of candidates withdrew their nomination papers.

The most prominent amongst those boycotting the elections are the Jamaat-e-Islami and the Tehreek-e-Insaf led by former cricketer Imran Khan. Between them, these parties manage a fraction of seats in parliament.

However, this time round, both leaders have been taking a no-compromise stand against the government on the issue of elections and reinstatement of the judiciary. It has won them admiration from a wide section of society. Analysts say that the boycott will definitely have an impact on the pace of electioneering and ultimately on the total voter turnout on January 8.

At the same time, the presence of two former Prime Ministers —Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif — is expected to matter a lot in the election-related activities. Nawaz Sharif and Shahbaz Sharif stand disqualified and hence are out of the race, but their active participation in electioneering is adding to enthusiasm of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) workers. The Sharif brothers are addressing rallies all over the country. After the withdrawal of nomination papers, a total of 2,252 candidates are in the run for 272 seats of the National Assembly, whereas the number of candidates for 577 general seats of the four provincial assemblies stands at 5,083.

For the two National Assembly (NA) seats from the federal capital, there are 34 candidates in the arena. For 148 NA seats from the Punjab, there are 1,003 candidates, for 61 NA seats from Sindh 627, for 35 NA seats from NWFP 262, for 14 NA seats from Balochistan 143 and for 12 NA seats from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) there are 183 candidates in the run. For 297 seats of the Punjab Assembly, the number of candidates is 2,311, for 130 Sindh Assembly seats 1,468, for 99 NWFP Assembly seats 763 and for 51 Balochistan Assembly seats there are 451 candidates in the field.